I know that cartoon to feature film adaptations usually do not work out for the best. Case in point, the Jem and the Holograms feature film. The translation between the two can get a bit rocky. While there are many I enjoy, especially from my youth, I have to admit that those successful adaptations are not the norm. Part of the problem being the very fact that studios rarely seem to feel the need to deliver a quality product in something aimed at children because they know children will enjoy it whether it’s good or bad.
Now, in the age of nostalgia, things are different. Content created for children is also regularly enjoyed by adults and creators now have to keep in mind not only the enjoyment of parents but of adults without children who are genuine fans of the material.
Scooby Doo was right on the cusp of that change. There’s a heavy element of nostalgia to it and it’s one of the elements that works best about it.
I grew up on Scooby Doo. I watched the old cartoons and loved them, watched them cross over with everyone from Batman to the Harlem Globetrotters. I was still a kid when the live-action movie came out, but I was definitely older and didn’t really feel as though I was included in the target audience even though I probably was.
But I rented it on a whim and I loved it. And I think even then I recognized that one of the things I was reacting most strongly to was the script. Kind of unbelievably, this is a truly smart, well-written, funny flick. Much of its success is owed to James Gunn, screenwriter-turned-director who of course has found huge success with indie hits like Slither and Super and the Marvel blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy.
He has a specific flair. You can tell when James Gunn was involved with the movie you’re watching. He might not have directed this film, but his fingerprints are all over it and that’s one of it’s strongest points.
The cast is also excellent. There’s some huge comedic talent here, as well as some rising stars from the ‘90s making an appreciated transition into the absurd. You’ve got Linda Cardellini, of Freaks and Geeks, as Velma. Freddie Prinze, Jr. as Fred. Sarah Michelle Gellar as Daphne. Matthew Lillard completely owns the part of Shaggy and then, of course, there’s Scooby.
Now, Scooby is such a ridiculous CGI creation by the now-dated standards of 2002 that he may as well have been 2D and achieved the same effect. But having the dog be so cartoonish also helps the feature film to recapture the tone of the TV show.
Scooby is of course the centerpiece, but I have to be honest, every single member of Mystery, Inc. steals scenes from him and I think that’s fantastic. What I really love about this movie is that it could have been a straightforward typical Scooby Doo story. It could have been about exploring some old mansion and there are some more gags thrown in to bulk it up to a feature running time and kids would have been fine with that.
Instead, you have a wonderfully meta version of Scooby Doo that picks apart how these characters actually feel about one another in genuine and hilarious ways. The roles of these characters have been stereotypical from the beginning. Each one of them is an archetype. But now they are aware of those archetypes and determined to fight them.
It takes guts to open the movie with the disbanding of the team. If anything, that was probably the moment that had me hooked. But even though this was the first time we were seeing them in live-action, it’s immediately made clear what their problems with one another are and why their team is going down in flames five minutes into the film.
Watching them try to live their own lives is hilarious, but watching them fight against their pigeon-holed roles is also legitimately heartwarming. Velma wants to be noticed, for a change. Fred wants to prove himself as a man of substance. Daphne’s role is kind of the most genius as she—the stereotypical damsel—wants to prove herself as a strong and capable woman who can take care of herself. This is awesome because it comments on her role in the series, while also paying tribute to Sarah Michelle Gellar’s role as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a part she was still playing at the time this movie came out.
She even gets her own fight scene, albeit in a campy and cartoonish fashion, and even this is surprisingly sincere because nobody else gets to see her do it. She wasn’t proving anything to anyone but herself, and she did that.
Even the ending proves to continue the movie’s meta streak as the villain turns out to be none other than the show’s most annoying character, Scrappy Doo, who was pushed too far after being sidelined by the group one too many times.
While there’s no reason a Scooby Doo feature can’t be great, I don’t think anyone was expecting this one to be this sincerely heartfelt. As much as the cast is hilarious and most of the jokes land really well, that’s still the true strength of this one: the sheer abundance of heart.